Duke Energy Takes Equity Stake in REC Solar, Embraces Distributed Generation

The largest utility in the U.S. is doubling down on distributed solar by taking an equity stake in commercial solar developer, REC Solar. The companies announced today that Duke will now own a majority stake of REC Solar and that together they will make it easier for commercial customers to go solar. In 2013, Duke Energy invested in Clean Power Finance, a company that provides financial services and software to the distributed solar industry.

Today's annoucement “is a great thing. Fantastic news for the entire company,” said Allan Bucknam, CEO of REC solar. Bucknam said that the partnership would simplify the process of going solar for small commercial customers, a market for which he sees great potential. “Over the past decade, a typical commercial sale has been a slow process,” he explained. With this announcement there will now be “a pre-defined document between us and Duke,” he said. 

REC and Duke will identify a set of criteria that they will use to pre-qualify certain commercial customers. If a customer meeting that criteria comes to them with an interest in installing solar, then the process will be simple and take place “with much less friction than you typically see in this space,” he explained. He added: “So we can go and say ‘look, we already have our investor, it’s Duke Energy, we already have a defined process, we already have a defined project criteria, we know that your project meets those criteria, and therefore we know that we can deliver you a signed agreement and start construction on this date.’”

Bucknam compared this evolution in commercial solar project development to what has been taking place in the residential space, where, with the help of large solar installers like SolarCity and Sunrun, the process of going solar has become more simplified. 

Duke Energy will also be making $225 million available for financing commercial solar projects, which Bucknam defined as 100-500 kW with the caveat that he didn’t want to be too prescriptive. “Even a 1-MW project can flow better with the new process,” he said. “I really think the solar industry has not served the small commercial market well to date so there is a lot of opportunity there,” Bucknam said.

The deal changes nothing for REC Solar. “There’s a great group of folks here that are passionate and innovative and we’re gong to harness that and keep doing what we do well as REC Solar in San Louis Obisbo, [California],” said Buchnam, adding “from our employees' perspective, there is nothing but upside here.”

Small commercial companies have been asking for greener sources of electricity to meet their sustainability goals for a few years now, a trend that the Solar Electric Power Association highlighted to RenewableEnergyWorld.com last year at PV America. At the show, Ryan Edge explained to Meg Cichon that utility key accounts are asking for solar energy, and some utilities are unable to fulfill those requests. Duke’s acquisition of REC Solar is a bold step towards rectifying that problem.

Lead Image: REC Solar’s 1-MW solar energy system for Vignolo Farms. Credit: REC Solar.

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